Thursday, July 14, 2011

Country Pride all Around!

Hello, and welcome back! I have been out of contact for several months, mainly because it's been my off season. I'm also working two jobs to help finance my 2011-2012 skeleton season (my first full competition season!) so things have been quite busy over here on the East Coast.

To do a quick sum up, I still work at Adventure Links, and have moved into a more young adult/college student/adult programs, and also got a job working with Caribou Coffee, "The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf" of the East Coast, for those not familiar with coffee shops east of Minnesota.

I arrived in Lake Placid Tuesday for my combine to earn my privilege to stay at the Olympic Training Center during the season, or whenever I'm not traveling. I wasn't too nervous for it because I didn't really have time to think about the combine until I was here.

Summer in Lake Placid

To make what could be a long story short, to earn housing here, a returning athlete needs to score 600 points on a eight-event combine. I came in with a goal of scoring 700 points, and I came out scoring exactly 700 points. Whew! It was an easy combine, and even though my training is geared to peak me in October, I felt like I'm on track for that. It is good to see where I am fitness-wise right now. I'm happy with my weight lifting, and I PRed in squats (105kg), broad jump and shot toss (thanks for shot toss in my javelin workouts, Coach Mo!).

I woke up today feeling a little sore, mainly from the waist up, since I was in the ice bath last night. My shoulders are sore, as is my neck, mainly from shot toss and the cleans. Overall, I'm feeling pretty good. I took an early morning ice bath to help recover for push training later today, and then I'll take another after. It's so nice to be back at the OTC and have the recovery options available to me. It's tough to have good recovery in Virginia because of working so much and limited resources.

The mindset is different when I'm here in Lake Placid, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. Decisions regarding my future that I have made back in Virginia get tossed out the window as soon as I'm immersed in the sport again. My choice to apply and do the Park Ranger Training Program at NAU was very much supported by my mind in Virginia, but now that I'm in New York and talking to coaches, I see what an impact that semester program will be on my performance in skeleton. It's a little frustrating, and long-term planning has never been my forte. I'm already thinking ahead to next summer, and gearing up to get into the Olympic Trials in a couple years. Eeek!

One of my favorite parts of this trip has been having access to TV and Internet 24/7, the best thing in the world for me right now, with the US Women's Soccer Team making their run for the World Cup. Being such a long-time, die-hard fan of the team, it's so heartbreaking not to be able to watch the games live. I was fortunate enough to catch a re-air of the second half of the exciting USA-Brazil quarterfinal, and even though I knew what was happening, I was SO nervous!

The USA-France semifinal was the first full game I've seen of this tournament, and I'm so glad I got to watch it! Thankfully, the scheduling for our combine left just enough time to watch the whole game. It was an exciting one, with France out-shooting and out-possessing the United States for a majority of the game. Abby Wambach had another beautiful header goal, and Lauren Cheney and Alex Morgan both had beautiful goals.

The US women celebrate their win over France

It's fantastic being where I am. Living as an athlete at the Olympic Training Center is one thing, but watching the rest of your fellow athletes, no matter what their sport, watching the soccer team and supporting them is quite another. Every TV in the building was turned on to the game (both games, actually with the airing of Japan/Sweden after the US game), including the TV in the cafeteria, and the Athletic Training room. The amount of support that the team has achieved thanks to that heart-pounding, come-from-behind-and-a-man-down-for-an-hour PK shootout is fantastic. I don't mind the bandwagon, nor does the US team (say their Twitter and Facebook accounts!) because any support, no matter how late, is great for women's soccer and women's sports. I'm proud of the team, I'm proud to be a fan of the team, and I'm proud of our country for supporting them.

Enough about soccer! We have push training this afternoon as our final "organized" part of the combine, and then the rest of the day is ours. I've made plans to wait in line for the midnight showing of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" with one of the girls who works at the OTC (Yay Amy!) so we'll have dinner in town and then get in line! I have to say, waiting for five or so hours is definitely worth seeing this film for only $6! One upside of Lake Placid is the cheap movie tickets! It'll be quite a long night, as I leave for Virginia bright and early tomorrow morning (though how early I haven't decided). I may push that departure later in the hopes of avoiding Friday evening traffic through DC/Northern Virginia, but any time I leave, I'm sure to hit it in Philly, or Baltimore. I just don't want to pull in at 10pm. I HATE driving at night, plus I have an early Saturday to plan and prepare for my New England Expedition with kids! Two weeks in beautiful New England! Lots to plan, but I'm trying not to get distracted by work while I'm in Lake Placid. I'm counting this as vacation time, just like September's Push Championships will be!

I just hope I get to watch the Women's World Cup Final on Sunday at 2pmET on ESPN! USA vs Japan! USA seeking their first title since the famous 1999 World Cup (you all remember Brandi Chastain, and if you don't remember her, she was the gal with her shirt off!) and Japan is seeking their first title EVER, having never advanced past the second round before. It'll be a great game, one for the books I'm sure! GO USA!

I am also seeking sponsors to help finance my 2011-2012 skeleton season! Any help would be great, and a $500+ donation will mean a spot for a sticker or name on my sled, a great promotion tool! To make a tax-deductible donation, or for more information, follow this link to the Athlete Training Fund page! Please be sure to put my name in the memo area so the money comes to me! You can also make a non-tax deductible donation simply by mailing a check to:

Lauren Salter

13220 Yates Ford Road

Clifton, VA


Any and all dollar amounts are appreciated and accepted! Thanks for your help of getting me to Park City, Calgary, Europe, and beyond!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

America's Cup and winding down the season!

Well, this will likely be my last blog post of the 2010-2011 skeleton season, unless something unexpected happens in the coming weeks.

It's been an amazing experience for me here in Lake Placid, and it's been just as wonderful to be able to share it with you all!

I took part in my first International skeleton race on Thursday, March 31. America's Cup is the first tier of competition for the FIBT skeleton world (in case you don't remember, an athlete typically starts in America's Cup or Europa Cup, moves up to the Intercontinental Cup, or ICC, and ends on the World Cup circut). It's quite an honor to be invited to race America's Cup during one's first season, and I certainly was fortunate to get the opportunity!

Having slid with International sliders the past two weeks, I am starting to see even more how great of a sport this is, and how great it is to compete Internationally. There is so much to learn, not just about the sport, but about other cultures and nations, and this gives one a perfect chance to do so. In the last week alone I've been able to get to know athletes from Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Canada, Britain, Greece and even Lichtenstein. One of my newest friends is a two-time Olympian former bobsledder from Switzerland, who, while converting to skeleton, has promised to teach me German. Sweet! It's really cool to see so many people from so many different backgrounds interested in one common thing: skeleton.

The start house previous to Wednesday's training session

Now, to talk about the actual competition. I had some very rough training runs leading up to the race. As you know from last week's post, I did very well in the FIBT school, so I came into this week confident that it would carry over. Well, I honestly have rarely felt as frustrated as I was most of the week. I was running very slow downtimes and my top speeds were not nearly as quick as they had been the previous week. Funny thing was, I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. I was at the same rock, on the same runners, doing the same thing and I was running almost two seconds slower than the previous week. I left training every day almost in tears because it was embarrassing to drop that much in just a couple days.

Slowing through the week, I was able to talk things out with my coaches. I watched a LOT of video, took a lot of track walks and a lot of notes, and basically just went back and flushed all the negative feelings out. I tried enjoying sliding, keeping my form and holding my head down...basic things, but it wasn't until Wednesday, the day before the race, during the second run that I was starting to improve.

I was still frustrated, but Don and a couple teammates reminded me that I have a tendency to "bring it" on race day and usually throw down some good times during competition. That notion helped me get re-focused. As I sanded my runners and got my sled taped up aerodynamically and prepped, I found myself thinking not of the coming results, but of the runs themselves, the track nuances and what I would or could do to get my times back down. Prepping for a race works wonders for me mentally, and this was one of the most important times to get mentally ready.

I arrived at the track on Thursday morning early enough to get my seat in the corner of the start house (where I can't see the TV screen) and set my rock on my sled before the parc ferme closed. I double checked my sled, double checked my equipment, then...sat and waited. I had arrived so early that I waited almost 45 minutes before even warming up.

Representing the United States!

Finally, I was able to warm up. It was warmer in the morning than it had been, so I definitely got sweaty and warm, which actually felt great. So much better than wearing three layers to keep warm! I had my earbuds in, so I drowned out all my thoughts and the noises around me. I knew I would be sliding 11th out of 15 sleds, so I just wanted to keep myself focused instead of listening to the down times of the girls before me.

When it was my turn, I remember feeling completly calm and relaxed. From the starting block, I looked down the starting ramp and knew that I would just enjoy this ride. As soon as I hit my sled, I knew it would be a good start and a good run. I heard a lot of cowbells from the spectators on the side of the track, but only vaughly. My load was fast and strong, and then everything seemed to slow down in the first curve. I was completely aware of where I was, what I had to do, and what my sled was doing. It was a pretty cool feeing, actually. I didn't hit at all except a little brush through the Chicane and a little hit off the exit of 19, and when I looked up at the clock at the out run, I saw 56.85. I PRed by almost a half-second and got a sub-57 second for the first time! Talk about bringing it on race day!

I finsihed the heat in 5th place, and was pretty confident going into the second heat. My start time had been a 5.51, and I was hoping to break into the 5.4s that day. During a race for beginning sliders, the trend seems to be either you perform "eh" on your first run and kill the second, or you kill the first run and "eh" the second. Mine was definitely the latter of the two.

I was a little too pumped going to the second heat, where I should have been more relaxed. I certainly hit my start nice and hard, and really felt fast sprintig down, but as soon as I loaded on my sled, my mind was doing too much. Actually, the run was really clean until Curve 12. I didn't feel like I was goig in wrong, but as soon as I hit the curve, I thought, "Uh oh". I didn't downsteer strong enough, and as a result, I got carried up to the very end of the curve and then...trouble. Curve 12 is one of the primary curves for crashes in both skeleton and bobseld, and if a slider doesn't hit it right, they tend to loose time, or flip all together. All I remeber of 12 this time was being airborne, with my legs AND body in the air. I wasn't paniking or scared. All I was thinking was, "Ok, hold on or you'll get disqualified for not finishing the run." So I hung on for dear life, landed on one runner, pulled myself on the sled, and continued down the hill.


For your viewing pleasure, the video from Curve 12, in slow-motion. Looking back on that run, I wonder how I even survived.

Unfortunately for me, that little hiccup cost me all my speed, and at least a second of time. I crossed the finish eye in 2nd place with a down time of 57.78, almost a second slower than my first run. I was pretty upset, but still in the running for a podium finish and a medal, though I didn't know what place. I congratulated the Canadian who was ahead of me, and waited. My teammate, Savannah, was in 4th after the first run, but had some trouble on the second and crossed the finish eye in 3rd with four sliders to go.

The board at the finish line. Showing off two PRs for me: downtime (56.85) and push start (5.47)

As it turned out, the US girls placed 5th, 6th and 7th, which isn't too bad for it being our first competition. Our fouth teammate, Morgan, unfortunately had some bad crashes during training and decided to scratch the race. It was really a bummer for her not to be able to race. But we represented our country well (if I do say so myself) and we are all very pumped for the 2011-2012 season.

The medal ceremony was pretty cool too, despite the corney music playing. It was such a proud moment to hear my name and my country, and being able to stand at that podium. It was a memory I'll cherish for all my life. Being able to medal in my first International compeition was amazing, and to do it at my hometrack was doubly so.

The awards ceremony: I'm over to the far right, Savannah is far left

I'm happy with my performance, and despite my messy second run, I performed at the best of my abilities. I'm so thankful to have had this opportunity. For those of you who are wondering, I'm staying with this sport as long as they'll have me. I'm focused and ready to slide even better next season.

One of my goals over the summer is to work on my start technique and hopefully compete in Push Championships. I'd like to get to the level where I am able to compete with the best in the world at the start. I'm hoping to compete in Europa Cup next year, if I can qualify for it, and more importantly, if Ican get the finances for it. I will be happy to slide America's Cup too, but I am always looking to challenge myself, and Europe would be fantstic. But I'm going to need a lot of help to get there. I'll be spending my summer working, looking for sponsors, and training.

Me, Meghan, and Savannah after the AC race with Becca, one of our awesome coaches!

I would like to send out a heart-felt thank you to all of those who have read this blog, and who have supported me, financially, logistically and emotionally to get to where I am today. Without the Robinson family, I wouldn't have been able to rent my sled for the season, and obviously without a sled, you can't do much! Without the help of my Idyllwild neighbors, Bev and Linda, I wouldn't have been able to attend FIBT school, which put me in the position to compete in AC. Without the help of my family and friends, I wouldn't be in Lake Placid, perusing my dreams. So thank you for your support, your love and your encouragement. Skeleton is an individual sport, but only on the ice. Off the ice, it takes coaches, trainers, sponsors, donars and friends to keep an athlete going. For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. My 2011 America's Cup 5th place medal is dedicated to all of you!

Thank you for a great season!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

FIBT School

Wow! It's been a LONG time since I've updated! I do apologize for that.

As you might guess, it's been incredibly busy here at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, NY.

This week was the FIBT Driving School, basically a sliding school for any nation. It's an invitation-only camp, and up to four sliders from a nation can attend. Because there are four of us American girls going to compete in America's Cup next week, we were invited to attend FIBT school.

Also because AC is next week, we were told by our coaches to do what we need to do to peak on race day. So, we were given free reign as far as what we wanted to participate in. The school was for beginner sliders to advanced, and would consist of training runs, gym workouts, lifting sessions, video review and track walks, among other things. There was also a bobsled driving school at the same time, so there were a LOT of athletes at the training center and athletes sliding at the track a majority of the day.

I've discovered this season that I am an athlete who experiences peaks and valleys in their performance. I will have a couple great weeks and then have a couple crummy weeks. Beginning National Championships week, I've had several bad weeks in a row. I was putting too much pressure on myself and comparing myself too much to my teammates and competition so much that it was affecting my performance. It's been frustrating and aggrivating, and even made me doubt my abilities in the sport and on the AC team.

Luckily, FIBT school helped. We access to several coaches, some fresh off their careers sliding for the US, others a little longer retired, and I've also had access to several sports psychology books. Overall, my mindset is changing, and it's changing for the better. This week especially I began working on focusing on my own performance, specific curves, or specific notes. I have progressively been pulling my attention away from the track feed in the start house and distracting myself from the audio commentary by our commentator, Kim. I've only looked at my own times, and have had several one-on-one sessions with coaches.

As a result, I'm beginning to think of the competition as me against myself. When it comes down to it, it's just me and my sled on that track, and I'm starting to get that. This week, for the first time since college, I brought my ipod to the track and listened to music while I went through my routine. As a result, I didn't hear anyone's times, nor did I watch their runs on the TV feed so by the time I got to the starting line for my own run, I was only thinking about my run, not the athlete before me.

Because of this change of mind, my times are improving, my sliding is improving, my confidence is slowly building back, and I'm learning the track even more. Thanks in part to my coach, Becca, I figuring out a deal that if my head was up on a run, she would charge me $5). During our FIBT school "race" (not really a competition, kind of like the Lake Placid Cup series) I had a little more difficulty focusing on myself, probably because it was a competition and my mind knew it. But I was able to tune myself into my own goals.

I slid consistently, if not as fast as earlier in the week, but because of that consistency, I captured first place by .43 seconds. It was a surprising coincidence to me, since I wasn't paying attention to who had slid what. So, I'm coming into next week with a little bit more confidence, which is what I need.

Crammed into a van to the top of the track. This picture doesn't really do justice to how many athletes we had in there.

It's a big step to compete Internationally, and while America's Cup is primarily for development athletes, there will also be some big names competing (like Amy Williams, 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist) because the 2012 World Championships are here in Lake Placid. But I'm not going in afraid, and I'm going to make sure whoever is there will have a fight. i'm excited, anxious and nervous, but ready!


FIBT School Athletes and Coaches

Sunday, March 6, 2011

National Championships!

Olympians, Development athletes, -2 degrees, 36 degrees, snow, rain, three track records broken, dozens of personal records for downtimes and push starts, and a huge swing of emotions. In short, this is the perfect description of the 2011 US Skeleton National Championships.

Talk about a rush! I have always dreamed of competing in a sport on a national level, but thinking I would be playing soccer or something, I never really believed that I'd get there. Wouldn't you know it? Here I am, 23 years old and I spent the weekend sliding amongst Olympians, World Cup athletes, and in front of coaches from all the levels of skeleton. That's crazy right?

I started the week testing out a new set of runners recommended to me by veteran slider Kimber Gabryszak. After going from a "standard" cut of runners (sharp, thin spine for lots of control) to a warm-ice runner (wide spine, shallower grooves for less cut on hard ice and faster times on warm ice), I realized finally that equipment means an incredible amount in this sport. But I won't bore you with all that skeleton jargon. Let's just say, I had some good runs on warmer days and some scary runs on colder ice days.

On Thursday, we were sliding in -2 degrees, colder than we have for a while. It was the first time that I actually FELT and ACKNOWLEDGED how cold it was AS I was sliding. I remember going through the Chicane (the straightaway) and thinking, "MAN I'm cold!".

Just before we began our training runs for the day, we were informed by the coaching staff that the race would be moved up a day due to a nasty storm that was predicted to be blowing through the north country. It's a good thing they did.

Friday came with perfect ice conditions. The air temperature was slightly below 20, and the ice was perfect. The track crew did a great job getting it prepared for us. As a result, THREE track records were broken, all by veteran sliders. Olympian John Daly broke his own track record, and then about five minutes later, his World Cup teammate Matt Antoine broke it again. For the women, Annie O'Shea broke the women's track record with a blazing time of 55.38 seconds! As a beginning athlete, it was awesome to see these veterans speed down this track in the times they did!

As for me, I was pumped and excited to slide! I began the races in the 9th position out of 15 sleds. As it was a four-heat race like in the World Championships and Olympic Games, we had two races on Friday and two on Saturday. Hearing my name announced as I stood at the start block with my sled in hand was one of the moments I'll remember for a while.

My heart was pounding, but I managed to control it. As soon as that green light lit up, I was completely focused on the track and on the start. I didn't even hear the spectators standing five feet away from me. As I sprinted down the 50m start and loaded onto my sled, I knew it was going to be a quick heat.

Loading onto my sled during the first heat of the 2011 National Championships

One thing I've been focusing on in the last week is keeping my head down and my form held. It was one of the only things I was thinking this time down, and it worked, as I held my form and my head down a majority of the run. As I whipped through the curves, I reminded myself to relax. As I flew up the outrun, I looked up at the clock. I had just tied my personal best, sliding a 57.20!

I was confident going into my second run, knowing that if I did the exact same thing, I'd be just fine. I powered off the start, loaded onto my sled, and got into Curve 1. That's when it went wrong. While I don't remember exactly what happened, I chatted with Kimber after the heat and this is what we deduced.

I came out of 1 too late, dropping off, and riding the left wall into 2 too early. The pressure pushed me down to the belly of two, and at the last minute, pushed me back up again, so I looped the very end of the curve. All I remember thinking was, "Oooooh hold on!" as I felt one of my runners leave the ice completely and I went airborne. Luckily, my body reacted pretty well, and I came down on top of my sled instead of the other way around, which could have easily happened.

Surprisingly (for my history of moving around on the sled) I got under control quickly, and didn't break my form. After almost flipping a sled, that's saying something. The rest of my run, I was completely focused on keeping it clean and holding form. It helped, but the damage had been done. Once one looses time in the upper part of the track, especially that drastically, it is extremely difficult getting it back. I ran a downtime of 57.53, but it wasn't enough to move me up more spots, so I finished the day in 8th place.

I was frustrated with my place going into Saturday, especially after my poor run through the top of the track on the second run, but I didn't let it stick. After talking to some of the veterans (mainly Kimber; she did a lot for me this week and I owe her a lot!) I moped that evening, and when I woke up Saturday morning, it was a new day, a new race, new conditions.

One thing I did do was seek the help of one of our coaches, former/current athlete Rebecca Sorensen (for those of you with really good memories, she's the athlete whose sled I'm renting for the season). My starts have not been as quick as I've expected them to be this far into the seasons. With my progression, I should have been running 5.50s or lower, but I was stuck in the 5.60s and 5.70s for my 50 meter start. I've switched up my start techniques a couple times, trying to find the right technique, but nothing has fit.

The day of the race, Becca worked with me in the gym, showing me her starting technique when she races. After trying it a couple times on the practice sled, I knew it was a much more comfortable technique for me. Being a former sprinter, this technique puts me in a more familiar track-and-field-like starting pose. When I get the chance, I'll post video.

Our practice helped, and I blasted off my first start of the final day of competition in 5.55 seconds, a personal best by .05 seconds! In a sport that is times to the hundredth of a second, this PR was huge, particularly in the start. Despite the fast start, though, my downtime was not what I wanted, a 58.88. The track was much slower than Friday night, but still I felt frustrated and upset with my slower downtime. I completed the heat in 8th place. I had one more run to make up time and to move up in ranking.

It was one of the toughest mental challenges in my short sliding career thus far to ignore the times of everyone else and try and focus on my second run. I moved up the rock in my sled, took a couple calming breaths, and sped down the start line again. While I thought my run was calm and controlled, I crossed the finish line with a downtime exceeding 1:00.00. The track was much slower than the first (if possible), but my downtime was not how I wanted to finish the race.

I was extremely frustrated as the next seven sleds moved ahead of me in the rankings, each one knocking me further and further down the list. An emotional athlete through difficulties, I had to move away from the finish house for the remainder of the race, trying to bite back tears of disappointment. I finished the competition in 9th place, which isn't bad for a national competition, but not what I was expecting. I didn't perform quite to my standards, and I was disappointed in myself.

Now, 24 hours later, I know that I am extremely fortunate to be where I am, competing in this sport. It has taken a lot of effort, even this early in my career, and it has taken the help of many friends, from Adventure Links coworkers lending me their cars to drive to Lake Placid (thanks, Rico!) to the parents of my Pi Phi sisters (thanks Robinsons!) to the support of my own family. All the support I've received has helped me to get where I am today.

2010-2011 US Skeleton Team

As my dad and brother both said following the race, if this sport was easy, everyone would be doing it. It's not easy, despite what some people say. It takes superb physical and mental strength, driving skills and a very fast transition between exploding for the start to complete relaxation on the sled. During this "relaxed chaos," it takes a practiced athlete to keep their cool while they speed down a mile long sheet of ice, on the brink of being out of control.

This is the crazy sport I've gotten into, and I am loving every minute of it. I'm extremely fortunate in my friends, family and teammates, and fortunate in my own abilities and drive for success. Thank you all for the help you've given me thus far. Please pass on my name to your friends and family! As always, the more exposure, the better I will be able to continue to slide!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Empire State Games

Today marks the beginning of the 31st Empire State Games.

This event has been taking place for...well, 31 years, and has been sponsored by the state of New York until this year. However, the local cities have all pitched in to help, and the Games continued this year.

The Opening Ceremonies took place tonight at the 1980 Olympic Rink, where the Miracle on Ice took place 31 years ago. As the parade of athletes marched in (trying not to slip on the ice), the audience was snapping pictures and cheering. Think Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies, but about 100x smaller, fewer athletes, and no fireworks. It was still fun, and a great way to see what the athlete life is like on the other side of the wall (in the athlete parade instead of watching it).

Some of the skeleton athletes getting ready for the Opening Ceremonies

In a strange twist of scheduling, our Empire State Games skeleton race was actually this morning, so we competed before the Games actually opened. Yeah, we were scratching our heads about that too.

The race went off at 11am, and the sleds had to be up at the start at 10:30. Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to spring a snowstorm on us, so the roads to the top of the track were too slick for the athletes to drive up. A majority of the athletes stayed down by the cars and waited for a van to come, which took forever. Getting anxious as I normally do when I am rushed before competition, I set my rock at the bottom of the hill, blowing snow out of my face and occasionally pausing to empty the inch of snow accumulating in my helmet.

The snow was falling so fast that even 15 minutes of exposure at the top, our sleds were blanketed in at least a quarter-inch of snow. The race was our first "officially run" race, with runners sanded and wiped by a jury, the temperature of our sleds checked, and such the like.

The girls looking good in the bibs!

As far as the actual race goes, my first run was not good by my standards. It was very squirrely (a word, by the way, that we had a discussion about the other day: why squirrely? Do squirrels move like that?) and not smooth. I finished the first heat in 6th place, which isn't bad, but it didn't set me up for an easy top-three finish.

At that point, I wasn't thinking about medals or finishing in the top. All I wanted was a cleaner run. I would be running sixth from the end in the second heat, since they run slowest down time to fastest in the second heat. I calmed myself down, warmed up again, tried to loosen my hamstring, and hit the start hard. I tied my start PR (again) and slid a much cleaner run.

With that slide, I had the fastest downtime of the heat, putting me in first place, but there were still five sliders to go, including the three fastest from the first heat. I've always wondered how it feels to be in the leader box that far from the final sled, or final performance, waiting to hear if your time was good enough to medal. Now I know. It's nerve wracking as all get-out. After I threw down a better second run, I was able to actually realize I could medal.

With each slider, our announcer, Kim, would commentate on their turns, their lines, and their performance as they go down the track. I heard my name a lot, as she compared the slider's splits to mine ("A tenth of a second off the pace set by Lauren," etc) which almost made it worse. Finally, Savannah, the third to the last slider, went which was probably the most nerve wracking, as she and I usually have similar down times. Lately, she's been sliding faster than I am, so I was anxious. I held on, barely, and knew I had a medal, just didn't know what color.

Morgan and Lauri slid again, and a tight race brought Morgan the gold and Lauri the silver, with me in 3rd.

The medal-winning women

Of course, I'm very happy that I was able to earn the bronze medal. However, I'm not very happy with my lack of consistency. I fluctuate during training, sometimes getting two or three very consistent runs, sometimes begin a half second or even a second apart between runs. In skeleton, a consistent run is of utmost importance, as a hundredth of a second can cost the race.

It is consistency that I will be working the most on this coming week. National Championships are next weekend, and it is (as you can imagine) a very big deal. All but a couple of the United States skeleton athletes will be competing, including the Olympians, World Cup athletes and sliders with years of experience. It's a race that will likely have an impact on what circuit I could be competing on next year, and it's a race where we will be seen by national team coaches. Yeah, it's a big race.

Lauri and I test our medals for authenticity

National Championships is a four-heat race over the course of two days. That means, I need to have four consistent runs in a row, over two days after five straight days of training. Insane but completely exciting! It's a great opportunity, and I'm incredibly excited and nervous for it. Wish me luck!

For now, I'm going to sleep! My legs are in need of massive amounts of rest and recovery. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Heat Wave!

After about a month straight of temperatures below 20 degrees, and probably half of those below 10 degrees, imagine our surprise when the temperatures in Lake Placid jumped about 30 degrees over the course of a day!

A general rule of thumb is when the temperatures are cold, the ice on the track is harder, and so the track is faster. While this isn't set in stone all the time, for the most part, cold weather = fast track.

So, flip-flopping that, if the weather is warm, the track may not be so hard, so may not be as fast. Warm weather can cause frost, or even slush to settle on the track, making it tough to go fast.

Once again, this is not a 100% theory. During a big competition, such as World Cup or ICC or National Championships, the ice workers will be at the track 23 hours of the day, maintaining the ice enough to keep it hard and fast.

It was our luck that just as the weather warmed up, an ammonia pump on the track's cooling system failed, causing all the ice from Curve 1 up to be at Mother Nature's mercy.

This isn't the thermometer at the track, but it shows the temperature from sliding November 17.

Thursday siding turned out very interesting. The ice at the top (so the start and into Curve 1) was sludgy, and got worse as the session went on, while the ice on the remaining parts of the track was faster than the day before.

There are so many things that affect the ice conditions, and I'm still learning so please forgive me if I ramble off into track jargon! (I was already accused of that a few times in this blog!)

Lake Placid Cup Series Race start

Because of the ice conditions on Thursday and the warm temperatures Thursday night, Don moved our Friday race to Start 3. This is where the luge athletes start on the track, and its start empties into Curve 4. Because it is lower on the track, the speeds are slower, and the lines one takes on the track are different.

Added on the slower speeds to begin with was a layer of frost covering most of the lower track. A run from Start 3 that usually takes 43-47 seconds was taking athletes 55 seconds to a minute. Even someone who doesn't understand skeleton lingo can see that is pretty slow.

The athletes had fun with it, though. It was low-key, with lots of laughter, costumes, and even an interesting method of starting. Since the luge start is very steep and luge athletes start with their hands, it isn't a great place for skeleton athletes to start, since we sprint and then jump on the sled.

Some of the guys figured out that if we attached stretch bands to the start consuls of the luge start, we could slingshot a skeleton athlete off the start.

Needless to say, it didn't work. But it was still fun.

Mike in an outfit not usually seen in a sliding sport!

It was interesting to go from trying to drive to the right lines on the track to this race, where really the best thing to do was to lay on the sled and relax. It was a good time to practice form and relaxation, which is what I tried to do on my two runs.

Today marks two weeks until National Championships! I'm nervous to slide with these great athletes who have been training for years. Some of them have gone to the Olympics, and many have won World Cup and other Cup medals. But I'm anxious to show what I can do, and I feel much more confident in my abilities now than I did a month ago.

I feel confident in my sled, though I just got weight moved (again) to help me go even faster. I also feel confident in my strength, though I'm also excited for the summer to gain back muscle that I've likely lost during the season.

All-in-all, I'm ready to show what I can do, and I'm excited to learn even more.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me financially thus far. If you or anyone you know would like to sponsor a budding skeleton athlete training for the Olympics, please contact me at!

Thank you all for continuing to read!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Glory of Post-Workout Recovery

All athletes know that recovery is key for success. Here at the OTC, nothing is different.

The recovery methods and techniques available for the elite athletes who live here are many, and most of them I've tried.

I mentioned NormaTec pants in my last post: inflatable, compression pants that help pump blood to the legs and flush out lactic acid. These can be used pre- and post-workout. Though they felt kind of weird and almost uncomfortable the first couple times I used them, I've gotten used to the pressure, and it actually feels quite good, particularly when the compressing cells are pressing on a sore or painful area.

Getting rid of that lactic acid with the NormaTec in the OTC!

Most high schools and all college sports training centers have some form of ice baths. At Hemet High School and at Northern Arizona University, where I went to college, the ice baths were basically horse troughs filled with cold water and ice. These can reach around 50 degrees, and the athlete only gets in them for 10-15 minutes. They can go in up to their neck if they wish, but who wants to do that?

Here in Lake Placid, the cold tub is actually that: a tub, like a hot tub a hotel would have, but filled with ice-cold water. There are two horse troughs in the treatment center, but they're filled with hot water for hot baths.

When I use the ice bath, I usually go in to my hips, and occasionally will sit on an inflatable ball, which puts me in up to my stomach. I've only once gone lower than that, when I had bruised ribs from my saddle. I went all the way up to my chest for that one...and I will never do it again! It took over an hour to get warm again!

Following rough days at the track, many of the skeleton athletes will get in the cold tub. This week in particular, after sliding, 5-8 of us have been getting into the cold tub as soon as we get back to the training center. Since the recovery center closes at 6, we have to rush back sometimes, but it's well worth it. Actually, several athletes use this tub multiple times a day.

Braving the cold tub after sliding

There are many other treatment options available to us, including stem (a machine that sends electric pulses through the area targeted), foam rollers, stretching machines, and ice machines located throughout the training center. They make it easy for us to treat ourselves, and the trainers also make themselves avaliable to us. It's much easier to take care of injuries and soreness when I'm here, as opposed to back home in California or in Virginia.

We certainly take advantage of everything that we can while we're here!

I want to send out a huge thanks to Robbie and Susan Robinson for their donation! It helps boost my confidence so much when I know that I am supported by not only family, but friends as well! I appreciate it so much!

For those who are interested in supporting me in my run towards the Olympic Games, please contact me either at, or send your donation to my name at 196 Old Military Road, Lake Placid, NY 12946.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

And Bronze Makes a Set

Having just completed my (*counts quickly on fingers*) seventh week of sliding, ( my fourth week this side of the New Year), my body is beginning to show signs of strain. This is to be expected when one sprints as fast as one can before jumping on a small metal sled and careening down a ice-covered, mile-long, 20-curve track at 70+ miles an hour. Add on top of that two times-a-week weight lifting, two times-a-week push start training and sprint training, and finally two days-a-week, 6-hour long stints of being on my feet at the restaurant, and you have my typical week. Even an elite athlete gets tired!

While my legs were protesting at work, my body is feeling stronger than it has in quite some time. I think I'll attribute 60% of this to my own training, and the other 50% to new methods of recovery that I am constantly discovering (That's 110%! Get it? Like they always say... "an athlete needs to give 110%" etc etc. Yuk yuk!). I'll explain these in another post later in the week (so I can get pictures!) but take my word for it: they're working wonders on my legs!

The last week and a half have been frustrating on the ice for me. I've been hitting slower times than what I would do otherwise, and I wasn't feeling comfortable on the sled, nor confident on the track. Needless to say, if you're a little uneasy in this sport, things can go wrong. I was getting so preoccupied with my poor performance that my sliding was suffering for it.

I take a start early in the week

Not only was I worried about my own performance, but I was comparing myself to my fellow sliders. "Well, this is sports, isn't it," You might ask. "The goal is to beat the other person." Yes and no. At this point in my very young career, I need to be focused more on learning to drive the sled and learning to improve my own performance. Times aren't as important now as they will be in four years, or eight years. They are a great way to see where one is messing up on the track, and where one is succeeding.

I am extreamely unfortunate in that I've always had a shaky confidence in athletics and out. I have a weakness of comparing myself to others and not focusing on the positive. Ask my siblings. Ask my parents.

HOWEVER. I am extreamely FORTUNATE in that I have a twin brother who is not only a gifted athlete, but who also has quite the head on his shoulders. Kendall has been my mentality coach, my sports psychologist, if you will. He calls me to offer support, encouragement and advice. I call him to complain about my runs, only to have him turn the conversation 180 degrees and start listing the things I'm doing right. He has the uncanny ability to make me see things that I just can't see because of my moping around. He'll patiently (well, until I get complain-y again...then it's a qiuck redirection!) steer the conversation away until I am telling him what I need to do next time. Brilliant!

This week especially, Kendall has been incredibly helpful. I was running 59+ and even some 1:00+ times throughout the entire week, when I finally broke down on Thursday, griping that I couldn't get my head around what I had to do because all I was thinking about was how I didn't want the other girls to beat me. As easily as if he had been coaching athletes all his life, he talked with me until he calmed me down, and began explaining what he wanted me to focus on for the race on Friday. What it came down to was Mom's old catch-phrase: "Focus on the positive, eliminate the negative." In other words, don't focus on the other girls. Don't focus on the time. The bad stuff always outweighs the good stuff in sports like this. So, pick a couple curves to focus on, do them right, then chill the rest of the way. I'm here to learn, so learn gosh darn it!

On Friday, I did just that. I wrote goals in my journal. I chose my curves to focus on (1-5...those little buggers have given me some rough rides over the past couple of weeks), and I reminded myself to hold my form and relax. After the first five curves, all I wanted to do was look into the corners, turning my head slightly to do so. This tactic was going back to my very first day of sliding, but I was fine with that.

I did my best not to listen to the announcer commenting on the slider's time as I warmed up and got ready, though the speakers are quite loud around the track, so it was almost impossible. I don't like listening to music during my warm-up so I can't really drown it out. As my turn down the track approached, I felt butterflies, so I used a breathing technique taught to us by some martial artists in December to calm myself down.

I was surprised that my first run was so smooth. I used minimal movements, and after successfully sliding the first five curves without skidding, I relaxed and was able to focus on the rest of the track without much problem. I checked the clock as I slowed down on the out-ramp at the end, checking my time. 58 something flashed in my head, but the number 3 followed the time, indicating the place I was currently ranked. Well, that's odd, I thought, remembering most of the girls had run 57s, and even a couple 56s. I was happy to hear that I had set a start PR, running a 5.60 second start.

I tried to focus on the van ride back to the top of the track, visualizing the track twice in my head, remembering what I had to do the next round. I wasn't thinking about the others for the first time in a while. Before I began my warmup for my second race, I checked with Mrs. Sweeney, whose children are also sliders and who was keeping the times recorded for Don. My time she had written down read 57.20. I told her that couldn't be right, and that I swore I saw 58. Well, don't argue, right?

My second run was also smooth. I hit my start at 5.60 again (talk about consistant!) and made it down with another 57, and another 3 flashing after my time. It was the first time in about two weeks that I had felt I had a good sliding day, and it showed in my performance. I wanted nothing more than Kendall to be there so I could jump on him and hug him!

The third-place finish earned me a bronze medal, meaning that I now have a complete set. Since the first race back in January, I have finished, in this order, 2nd, 4th, 1st, and 3rd. While I don't physically have my silver medal yet, I have my gold and now the bronze. But I have to say, the bronze that I just won is sweeter than any of the others and I appreciate it more. With my brother's help, I fought back from mental poop-hood to medal among a skilled group of athletes. The fact that I had been able to overcome my own naysaying helped me believe that I can actually do this.

Laurie (silver) and I watch as Kristina is awarded her gold!

To cap off a good day at the track, the girls went to the bowling alley to celebrate Sherri's 21st birthday. It was a lot of fun, with lots of laughter, smiles, neat bowling tricks, and well deserved relaxation.

The girls get goofy

It was a great finish to the week, and makes me even more exited to spend time with these newfound teammates/friends/fellow athletes of mine! Before I leave, here is a video I made at the bowling ally of one of Kristina's most glorious moments of the night.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

23 years and counting!

Yesterday, February 1, was my twin brother and my 23rd birthday! If you know the story of our birth, you will know that it is a miracle that we survived to celebrate it! My mom put it best over the phone last night: "23 years ago, I was dying and so were you! Yay for us!"

Some of the girls out celebrating my birthday with pizza

Yes, hurrah for us for making it this far! And best of all, we're both healthy, happy and living life to the fullest!

My birthday was spent at the Olympic Training Center, at Mt Van Hoevenberg, and at a local pizza place in the village. I spent it with my newest friends: my teammates and fellow athletes on the US Developmental skeleton team, and some fellow athletes up in the ranks. After pizza and a movie ("Salt" Don't watch it. It's bad.) we chowed down on ice cream and got some little goodies to share between us.

Rachelle poses with some of our sweet stash. We all have sweet tooths!

I haven't updated much since forerunning, mostly because when it comes to a typical sliding day, I've already talked about it. However, I do have a plan in the works for a video diary following me on a "typical" day here at the OTC and in the life of a skeleton athlete. When I post it, it will be a pretty close show of what I, personally, do as my routine during my training day.

I've had a couple bad days of sliding (not crashing bad, but just frustrating bad) including a run that scared the bejeezus out of me. I was up too far forward on my sled, so my runners weren't digging into the ice like they should have been. Because of that, I was skidding all over the place. It wasn't bad until the Chicane, where I felt myself coming in wrong to the entrance of Curve 17. About a split second later, I realized that I was skidding sideways, with my feet pointing towards the roof and my head staring down into the walkway. Not good.

Basically, I was jolted off my sled as I hit the wall coming out of 17, landed hard with my bicep crashing into my saddle, resulting in a dead arm, and almost flipping in 18. I stayed on my sled, held on with my eyes closed for the remaining curve and a half, and got off the sled shaking. My arm was pounding, and hurt to the point that I almost dropped my sled as I carried it down the couple stairs to the finish house.

I was definitely shaking as I waited to get on the van back to the top, and fighting back tears. It was very frightening, especially after the fact. It was also frustrating because I had several excellent runs the week before.

Needless to say, I was a little gun-shy of Curve 17 the next run down, but luckily I made it through relatively cleanly. My times for that day were not my best, but I got through the day, with a welcome encouragement post by Kendall.

But my runs yesterday were good. I hit my first sub 59 (I think, but I can't remember for sure, so we'll say this is my first!!) and scored a 58.91. I also was sub-minute on my other two runs. They were all pretty consistent, but I'm still working on bringing my times down.

Pushing the start

Sliding was cancelled today due to the crazy snow that's hitting the East Coast, so we've been chilling in the OTC. I did a weight lifting session, braved the slick streets in Morgan's Jeep to drop off our movie from the other night and pick up another from the library, and have been struggling to complete my first crossword. Ok, so I've peeked at the answers (I'm doing yesterday's so today's paper has the answers) a couple times, but only twice to get a word, and the rest to double check that I got the word right. If (when?) I complete it, I will be taking a picture of it, since it will be the first crossword I've finished.

Short update! More to come at another time!

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Forerunning Experience

I found out only yesterday that I would be forerunning the final day of the Intercontinental Cup races today.

To be a forerunner is a big honor, especially for a new slider. It gives the athlete the chance to slide in front of spectators, as well as in front of athletes and coaches. While the forerunners don't have an official time, it's a great opportunity.

The job of a forerunner is to slide the track before the competing athletes. Contrary to popular belief, forefunners are not the "guinea pigs" of the race. They don't slide to check the safety of the track. They slide to test the timing eyes that are set up throughout the track, making sure the computer and timing systems are up and running correctly.

Actually, the only job of a forerunner is not to steer into Curve 1. This allows the competing athletes to see the line that the sled takes into the first curve, so allows them to decide which groove to use.

For an international race, women race their first heat, and the men follow with their first. Then there is a 25ish minute break, before the women do their second and final heat and finally, the men complete their second heat.

I foreran in between the women's and men's first heats, and then was the "after-burner", the final athlete on the track to close it out.

Getting prepared to run (I did a full warmup because my hamstring has been tight the last two days), Don was holding my sled for me while I stripped out of my warmups. He was examining my sled and before he gave it back he said, "This is a fast sled." I replied, "Well, I like it!" and he said again, "Yep, this is a fast sled." That's always good to hear!

I've heard that it's a great rush when you sprint down the start ramp and have cowbells ringing in your ears and dozens of people yelling at you. But I wouldn't know. I didn't hear anyone. Leisl says it's because I'm so focused. I volunteered that it might be that I hear the bells and yells, but I don't remember after the run. This is also highly possible, considering a hell of a lot goes on between the start ramp and the out-run.
On my first run, I did hear the spectators standing at the beginning of the out-run. I came around Curve 20, and heard a big "Wooeeehhooo!" and saw a line of red out of the corner of my eye. It was a great feeling being cheered on, even though I wasn't competing.

I had to wait about an hour and a half until I slid again. I warmed up a bit before my second slide. I think they forgot I was forerunning, because when I went there with Savannah (another development athlete who also foreran), a track worker saw me and said, "Oh! There's one more!!"

It was also really cool that I was the last sled. I don't mind coming down last, and had a great time listening to our commentator make some comments about the "afterburners" being new sliders who are working their way up the ranks.

My second run was pretty good. Not quite consistent with my first, faster run, but the track was slowing down, and I had tripped a little bit on my start. I actually laughed out loud when I was clumsily loading on my sled because the start was so bad. Several of my development teammates were on hand to cheer us all on, and they managed to get some video of me through our "straightaway", the Chicane.

I'm glad I got the two runs in, even if they weren't quite as fast or clean as I thought they would be. Any ride on the track is a learning experience, and each ride brings me closer to gaining the confidence and precision I need to move up in this sport.

On another note, we had our second Lake Placid Cup Series race yesterday (Thursday). While I didn't slide very consistently, I placed fourth. There were more sliders this week than there had been last week, but still placing that close within the top three was great. I finished the first heat in sixth of seven sliders, and made up a little bit of time with a faster run on the second to jump two places. I'm excited as anything to slide next week! I just need to get through two days of work (uug).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Big day of learning!

Today's sliding session was chock-a-block full of learning!

We slid earlier than we have in the past, from 3-5. The Intercontinental Cup is here this week, so they had their ice time earlier in the day. A couple of us went down to the track to watch. I stood at curves 11, 12 and 13 to watch the entrance and exit of 12, which I've had a problem with in the past.

It was great to watch the international sliders and see everyone's technique. I will say the US sliders hit a great line in 12, while some of the internationals dropped out of 12 too late.

Leisl and I hit the gym after we got back from the track to work on treadmill pushes. To remind y'all, we set up the treadmill so the belt on the treadmill moves under your own power. A block is set up to hold on to, so you bend over and run like you're on the track with the sled. It's great for form!

A US ICC athlete, Caleb Smith, who I met at my first combine, helped us out with our starting technique. His advice helped a LOT, and as a result, I'm really feeling my hip flexors and quads tonight! I pushed up to a speed of 7.2, which is not too bad.

The track when we slid was slower than it had been on Friday, but still it was fast enough to learn a lot on.
My task Don gave me to focus on was to up steer in Curve 10. I was to up steer, hold it, go neutral, and then as soon as I saw the exit, down steer hard (don't worry, it makes sense to me!).

My first slide felt pretty good. I was consistent in my times (59.80) but my start time was still pretty bad (5.88). But I felt like I did 10 right, because 11, 12 and 13 felt great. My start in Lake Placid

The only couple of things that went wrong was skidding before curves 2 and 3, and then something happened that was really scary: I skidded in Curve 17. Not before, not after...IN. I entered it on the left side of the track, and as a result, my head went up "to the right" (not really, but in that direction) and the bottom of my sled went down "to the left". Kinda scary, and as a result, I got in 18 weird, and it spit me out hard into the wall. By the time I passed the finish eye, I was as slow as if I had been on the out-run. Despite the skid, I had a fairly consistent time (1:00.93).

Needless to say, I was pumped and ready to get back on the sled for my third run. Before that, we took a short track walk down to the middle of Curve 1 and took a look at where we were supposed to drive. Don told us to look at him when he stood at the corner of Start 1 and look at him. This would turn our shoulders into our sleds enough to steer it correctly out of the curve. If it sounds confusing, you'd be right, but it makes sense when you're on the sled.

Well, I saw Don and I looked at him, but I looked at him with my eyes. I didn't actually turn my head to look at him. So, of course, I didn't steer the sled and I skidded into 2. Oh well.

This third run was a lot cleaner. I steered 10 well, and the lower part of the track also went smoothly. I came in with a 59.81, and if you look in the paragraphs above, you'll see this time is only 1 one-hundreth of a second slower than my first. Talk about consistency!
Sliding Curve 10. Note: My head is DOWN!
I may not have PRed today, but I was happy with my performance. I love this sport because there are SO many things to work on! I love the technicality sliding, and love challenging myself to perfect every little move.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the week. Our second Lake Placid Cup Series race in on Thursday instead of Friday, which is awesome because I work Friday morning, and I hate working before competing. I hope I continue to be consistent in my times and my performance, all the while improving on my times.

To reiterate, my goal is to compete in America's Cup in late March. To get a competition under my belt before the season ends would be fantastic, and would also help to rank me as an international athlete.

I also hope to be invited to the FIBT (the Federation Internationale Bobsled and Tobogganing) Driving School. This is a driving school that only a couple elite athletes (per country) are invited to. It would be an amazing learning experience, one that would help launch me onto the international stage.

Finally, there is the US Championships in March. These are open to all American athletes, and to compete against them and see their skills would be fantastic.

Of course for now, I will be focusing on myself, my fitness level, my strength, and my performances on the track. I will continue to be a sponge and learn all I can about sliding.

There are many goals ahead to work towards, and I'm excited to do it. The last several days of sliding have confirmed to me that this is where I'm supposed to be. My experiences here have been some that I will remember for the rest of my life, and am so happy to share it all with you!